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Best cheap camera 2021: the 16 biggest camera bargains, from DSLRs to compacts

Fujifilm X-T20
(Image credit: Future)

Searching for the best cheap camera? Whether you want an entry-level DSLR or an affordable compact camera, the list below features the very best budget cameras you can buy right now.

Think photography is an inescapably expensive hobby? While cutting-edge cameras will almost always be costly, it’s perfectly possible to find excellent photographic options that don’t break the bank. We’ve tested a wide range of affordable cameras, from the latest entry-level options to stellar models from a few years back – all to help you find your ideal budget camera.

Affordability means different things to different people. You might be in the market for a pocket-money instant camera that prints quick and easy snaps to stick on your fridge. Alternatively, you might be looking to buy your first DSLR on a limited budget – or to upgrade from your smartphone without spending thousands. Whatever you want, every camera recommended in the list below represents great bang for buck.

There are several ways to find a fantastic affordable camera. One option is to look at entry-level models, which offer solid performance for beginners. The Nikon D3500 is a great example: it’s our top pick for the best cheap camera you can buy, because it offers a decent APS-C sensor, fantastic battery life and support for a massive range of lenses. Like most beginner cameras, it loses out on some of the advanced features seen on more expensive models – such as 4K video and a touch-sensitive display – but it’s still a great affordable camera for first-time buyers on a budget.

Alternatively, you can consider former flagships which are now available for lower prices. Such is the pace of change in the camera market that feature-packed models which were once headline news can now be picked up for a lot less than their launch price. Cameras such as the Sony Alpha A6000 continue to offer excellent specifications – including 11fps burst shooting and a 24.3MP APS-C sensor – for the same price as an entry-level camera today. Provided you don’t need the very latest photographic technology, this is a smart way to bag a capable all-rounder that still has the skills to grow with you.

This buying guide covers all bases. You’ll find several affordable entry-level options, as well as a few slightly older, more advanced models which now represent outstanding value. Whatever your expectations, you should find your ideal bargain camera recommended in the list below.

Best cheap cameras 2021 at a glance: 

  1. Nikon D3500
  2. Fujifilm X-T20
  3. Sony HX90V
  4. Apeman A100
  5. Sony A6000
  6. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV
  7. Canon EOS M50
  8. Sony WX220
  9. Panasonic Lumix ZS100 / TZ100
  10. Fujifilm Instax Mini 9
  11. Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III
  12. Fujifilm X-A7
  13. Olympus E-PL9
  14. Fujifilm XP140
  15. Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 200D Mark II / EOS 250D
  16. Nikon D5600

Best cheap cameras in 2021:

1. Nikon D3500

The best entry-level DSLR out there is great value

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Sensor: APS-C CMOS, 24.2MP
Lens mount: Nikon F
Screen: 3-inch, 921K dots
Viewfinder: Optical
Continuous shooting: 5fps
Movies: 1080p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Huge battery life+Massive lens selection available
Reasons to avoid
-No 4K video-Screen not touch-sensitive

The Nikon D3400 was a hugely successful and popular DSLR, and it retained plenty of appeal once the D3500 was introduced, as it managed to offer much the same thing for less money. Now, the D3500 has dropped enough in price to make it the clear best buy. Key changes over the older D3400 include a newly developed APS-C sensor (though still with 24MP) and an even better battery life of 1,550 frames per charge, next to the D3400's very capable 1,200 shots per charge. You also get a better grip and a slightly redesigned body that's a bit lighter too. The D3400 is still around and remains an excellent first-time buy, but this newer model just has a slight edge.

(Image credit: )

2. Fujifilm X-T20

A retro-styled mirrorless model with plenty of features

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C X-Trans CMOS III, 24.2MP
Lens mount: Fujifilm X
Screen: 3-inch, tilting, 1040K dots
Viewfinder: Electronic
Continuous shooting: 8fps
Movies: 4K 60p
User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Excellent handling +Retro styling+Film simulation modes
Reasons to avoid
-Limited touchscreen functionality -Restricted battery life 

A great example of opting for an older-line model, the Fujifilm X-T20 may have since been replaced by the X-T30, but that doesn’t stop it being an excellent camera. Essentially, the X-T20 is a stripped back X-T2, which was once Fujifilm’s top-line mirrorless model. That means, you get a fantastic 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS sensor, a high-resolution electronic viewfinder, a tilting touch-sensitive screen and even 4K video recording. This is a lot of camera for the money, and to top it off, it looks great too. Action shooters are the main beneficiaries of the X-T30’s upgraded specs, so if you’re somebody that primarily captures landscapes, portraits, still life and anything else that doesn’t move much, it’s a superb choice.

Sony HX90V

(Image credit: Sony)

3. Sony HX90V

A super slim 30x zoom camera – ideal for day trips and travels

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor: 1/1.23-inch, 18.2MP
Lens: 30x zoom, 24-720mm (equivalent)
Monitor: 3-inch, 921K dots, tilting
Viewfinder: 0.2-inch, pop-up EVF
Continuous shooting: 10fps
Movies: 1080p / 60p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Lengthy zoom +Pop-up EVF +Tilting screen
Reasons to avoid
-No raw shooting-No touchscreen 

If zooming is your key concern, then a camera like the HX90V will certainly get you closer to your subject. With a 30x zoom housed in an impressively slim body, you also get useful features such as a tilting screen and a pop-up viewfinder – the latter being particularly handy when shooting in sunny climes. The compromise for offering such an extensive zoom is a smaller sensor, with a 1/2.3-inch device being less suited to low-light shooting than some models in our list. But, if it’s to be your holiday camera, that’s likely to be less of a concern. Although you are afforded manual control, those with high-end aspirations might also have their enthusiasm dampened by the lack of raw shooting, but it’s otherwise a cracking little buy. 

Apeman A100

(Image credit: Future)

4. Apeman A100

Don't let its cheap looks fool you - this budget buy shoots great 4K

Specifications
Type: Action
Weight: 74g
Water-proofing: 40m (with case)
4K video: Up to 50fps
1080 video: Up to 60fps
720 video: Up to 120fps
Stills resolution: Up to 20MP
Battery life: 120mins
User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Great 4K video+Good handling +Great value
Reasons to avoid
-Audio quality poor-Image stabilization could be better-Very simple body design

Although the Apeman A100 won’t win any prizes for body design or looks, the fact that it’s available for under $100 elevates highly in our list. Despite its low price, it produces sharp 4K footage, even managing to turn out some decent footage in low light conditions. There are of course some downsides to this model over the likes of the more expensive GoPro Hero 9 Black - the image stabilization isn’t as good, while sound quality is on the poor side. But if you just want a cheap and cheerful way to record your latest adventures, the Apeman A100 is an excellent choice. 

Sony A6000

(Image credit: Future)

5. Sony Alpha A6000

It’s a high-spec camera at a low-spec price

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C CMOS, 24.3MP
Lens mount: Sony E-mount
Screen: 3.0-inch tilt-angle, 921K dots
Viewfinder: Yes, EVF
Continuous shooting speed: 11fps
Movies: 1080p
User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Good specs even now+11fps burst shooting
Reasons to avoid
-No touchscreen-Full HD video only

Don’t let the price fool you. The A6000 costs the same as other entry-level DSLR and mirrorless cameras, but it’s an advanced and powerful camera that has only dropped to this price through being on the market since 2014. So it may be old, but most of the specification still looks surprisingly fresh today. This includes a 24MP APS-C sensor, a fast hybrid 179-point autofocus system and continuous shooting at 11 frames per second (fps). Its age shows in other areas, though; it only shoots 1080p Full HD video and not 4K, and the screen isn’t touch sensitive. Still, the latter is still the case on many new Sony cameras and the A6000’s high-end features ensure that it's a camera that will grow with you.

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV

(Image credit: Future)

6. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV

A compact and competent stills camera for beginners

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: 16MP
Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
Screen: 3-inch, 1,037K-dot touchscreen
Viewfinder: 2.36m-dot EVF
Continuous shooting: 8.6fps
Movies: 4K/30p
User level: Beginner/intermediate
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: 20.3MP
Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
Monitor: 3-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,037K dots
Viewfinder: 2.36m-dot EVF
Continuous shooting: 15fps
Movies: 4K/30p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Capable stabilized sensor+Compact body
Reasons to avoid
-No microphone input-Autofocus isn’t cutting edge

If you’re an eager beginner who's in the market for a compact mirrorless camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV should be at the top of your list. An affordable Micro Four Thirds model, the Mark IV pairs a capable 20.3MP sensor with impressive in-body image stabilization to deliver consistently attractive images using the kit lens. 

With footage capped at 4K/30p and no microphone or headphone input, video isn’t a major focus. Instead, this is a small, powerful camera for stills: dynamic range is better than anything a smartphone can capture, while that IBIS system keeps images sharp even when shooting handheld after dark.

AF tracking across the Mark IV’s 121 points can be a little patchy, but improved face detection and subject tracking from the Mark III mean it’s largely reliable. Stick to centre point focus and you’ll find it fast, even in low light.

An ergonomic grip, approachable button layout and handy flip-down touchscreen make the Mark IV an accessible upgrade for smartphone photographers. And with a wide catalogue of lenses available, it shapes up as an excellent entry-level mirrorless option.

Canon EOS M50

(Image credit: Future)

7. Canon EOS M50

A small, accessible mirrorless option that can shoot great stills

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: 24.1MP
Lens mount: Canon EF-M
Monitor: 3.0-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040K dots
Viewfinder: 2,360K-dot EVF
Continuous shooting: 10fps
Movies: 4K/25p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Polished, easy to use touchscreen+Very good image quality
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy crop on 4K video-Poor battery life

Not everyone needs a cutting-edge camera, which is why the original M50 remains a popular mid-range mirrorless model. A fun, approachable option that offers great image quality, the M50 continues to represent good value for money. That’s only more true following the launch of the M50 Mark II, an update that’s only a modest evolution over the first-gen model. Powered by Canon’s Digic 8 processor and equipped with a Dual Pixel AF system, the M50’s 24.1MP APS-C sensor allows the camera to be relatively compact while still capturing fantastic stills. 

Noise is nicely controlled, with excellent detail and impressive dynamic range. The M50’s affordability is not without compromise, mind: battery life could be better – as could the plasticky finish – while the heavy 1.6x crop on 4K footage feels dated. Still, with a large and bright EVF, backed up by a responsive touchscreen interface, the M50 remains an accessible mirrorless package with plenty going for it.

Sony WX220

(Image credit: Future)

8. Sony Cyber-shot WX220

Not new, but still a very capable compact all-rounder

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor: CMOS, 18.2MP
Lens mount: N/A
Screen: 2.7-inch, 460K dots
Viewfinder: N/A
Continuous shooting: 10fps
Movies: 1080/60p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Compact form+Bright and punchy images+10x optical zoom
Reasons to avoid
-No grip or thumb rest-Convoluted menu system

It might be getting a little grey-haired, but the Sony Cyber-shot WX220 remains a great value compact camera. A fine all-rounder, it offers a great blend of performance, zoom range and decent image quality. And it’s now a certified bargain.

Aimed at smartphone upgraders, the WX220 isn’t one for control freaks. The menu system is convoluted and there are relatively few buttons on its compact body. There’s no thumb rest or front grip, either. Instead, you get a lightweight, tiny shell that will fit in any pocket.

Despite its diminutive proportions, the WX220 still packs a 10x optical zoom – nowhere near the longest, but impressive in such a small model, and longer than most smartphones.

Paired with the 18.2MP CMOS sensor and optical image stabilization, it delivers bright images with great colors and good detail. Look closely and you’ll notice a little image smoothing, especially at long zoom lengths, but nothing that’s noticeable at normal sharing sizes.

A solid performer that ticks plenty of boxes without breaking the bank, the WX220 is well worth a look at current prices.

Panasonic TZ100

(Image credit: Future)

9. Panasonic TZ100

An older travel zoom compact that’s still got serious skills

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor: 1-inch CMOS, 20.1MP
Lens mount: N/A
Screen: 3-inch, 1,040K-dot touchscreen
Viewfinder: 0.2-inch, 1,160K-dot EVF
Continuous shooting: 9.9fps
Movies: 4K/30p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+1-inch sensor+10x optical zoom+4K video
Reasons to avoid
-Small electronic viewfinder-Fixed screen

Back in 2017, we called the Panasonic TZ100 “the perfect compact camera.” And, while several models have since arrived with superior specs, the TZ100 remains a fantastic option for those after an affordable compact travel camera.

Its metal shell is solid yet sufficiently small to slip into a pocket. The main controls are clustered on the back for easy one-handed control, while function buttons offer the welcome option of customization – and the touchscreen is responsive, too.

On the go, the TZ100’s 1-inch sensor (which is larger than today's smartphones) delivers vibrant, punchy images with a fair level of detail for an older compact, even in low light. Dynamic range is also decent and noise isn’t generally an issue. The 10x optical zoom will be versatile enough for most, while the option of shooting 4K footage makes simple vlogs an option as well.

Sure, its not quite as powerful as today’s premium compacts, but the TZ100 is plenty good enough for taking travel snaps to share online and will still surpass most smartphones too. 

Fujifilm Instax Mini 9

(Image credit: Future)

10. Fujifilm Instax Mini 9

Simple instant printing fun for all the family

Specifications
Type: Instant
Sensor: N/A
Lens mount: N/A
Screen: N/A
Viewfinder: Optical
Continuous shooting: N/A
Movies: N/A
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Simple to use+Excellent value
Reasons to avoid
-Limited controls-Quality could be better

If it’s easy instant snaps you’re after, Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 9 remains a firm favorite, despite the arrival of the very similar Instax Mini 11. Forgoing almost all the controls you’d expect on a modern compact camera, the Mini 9 instead makes fun its focus. 

Look through the straightforward viewfinder, click the shutter button and in a jiffy you’ll find a credit card-sized print coming from the top of its retro shell. 

Charming for its simplicity, the plastic shell of the Instax Mini 9 ships in a spectrum of bold shades, while a little mirror on the front makes framing selfies a cinch. A simple five-level brightness adjustment dial is the extent of its inputs, making the affordable Mini 9 perfect for parties and play-dates. 

Print quality is naturally limited, but the idea here is to capture retro-style memories rather than crystal clear images. The color film is a little pricey, so you’ll want to make your shots count.

(Image credit: Future)

Sony RX100 III

(Image credit: Future)

11. Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III

A great all-round compact camera with a large sensor

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor: 1-inch, 20.1MP
Lens: 24-70mm, f/1.8-2.8
Monitor: 3-inch, 1,300K dots
Viewfinder: EVF
Continuous shooting: 10fps
Movies: 1080p UHD
User level: Beginner/intermediate
Reasons to buy
+High-res viewfinder+Large sensor+Bright lens
Reasons to avoid
-No touchscreen-Limited Raw functionality

This series has now reached its seventh generation, but it's the RX100 Mark III that currently offers the best value for those looking to upgrade from their smartphone. It was the first model in the series with a built-in electronic viewfinder – a huge boon for shooting in sunny conditions – and it has a large 1-inch sensor, which produces excellent image quality. You also get a tilting screen and a speedy 10fps continuous shooting mode for capturing moving subjects. If you need 4K video or slo-mo video, then it's worth stretching to the RX100 Mark IV – but the Mark III has recently dropped to some impressively low prices for such a capable, smartphone-beating compact camera.

Fujifilm X-A7

(Image credit: TechRadar)

12. Fujifilm X-A7

A lightweight and talented mirrorless performer

Specifications
Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C CMOS, 24.5MP
Lens mount: Fujifilm X-mount
Screen: 3.5-inch, 2,760K-dot vari-angle touchscreen
Viewfinder: N/A
Continuous shooting: 6fps
Movies: 4K/30p
User level: Beginner/intermediate
Reasons to buy
+Superb autofocus+Excellent image quality+Sleek and stylish design
Reasons to avoid
-No built-in image stabilization-No viewfinder

Proof that entry-level doesn't have to be a synonym for underpowered or basic, the Fujifilm X-A7 packs a seriously impressive spec list for an affordable mirrorless camera. 

Its hybrid autofocus system isn’t the fastest, but real-world performance is superb, with superlative subject detection and tracking. Images are crisp and sharp with outstanding color reproduction, while noise control is likewise stellar, even as high as ISO 1600. 

In the hand, a shallow grip means the X-A7 isn’t especially comfortable to hold for long periods and the position of the joystick makes it tricky to reach with your thumb. Then again, the trade-off is a shell that’s compact, lightweight and stylish, in an old-school sort of way. 

Image stabilization would’ve been a welcome addition and some might want a viewfinder, but with 4K video in the mix, the X-A7 stands out as an ideal traveling companion. Set aside those ergonomic niggles and it’s an almost perfect affordable option – and an ideal smartphone upgrade.

Olympus E-PL9

(Image credit: Future)

13. Olympus PEN E-PL9

A great interchangeable lens camera for compact prices

Specifications
Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds
Resolution: 16.1MP
Viewfinder: N/A
Monitor: 3.0-inch tilting touchscreen, 1,040K dots
Autofocus: 121-point AF, 1 cross-type
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 8.6fps
Movies: 4K/30p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Stylish looks+Consistently great image quality+Very easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-No viewfinder-Only basic controls-No 4K video

It may have since been succeeded by the Olympus Pen E-PL10, but this mirrorless model is almost identical and is now a serious bargain as a result. If you're looking for a stylish camera that can take smartphone-beating snaps and has a huge range of lenses, the E-PL9 is well worth a look.

One of the benefits of its small, friendly design is that it's not too intimidating or noticeable, making it ideal for taking people shots or portraits. This does mean the E-PL9 lacks a built-in viewfinder, but those coming from a smartphone won't miss that, and it does otherwise combine good handling with a straightforward, beginner-friendly menu system.

The E-PL9's tried-and-tested 16.1MP Live MOS Micro Four Thirds sensor captures nicely rendered shots in most situations. And despite its compact size, its 3-axis image stabilization system is there to give you a helping hand in low light situations. At current prices, there aren't many interchangeable lens cameras that offer a better range of features than the E-PL9. 

Fujifilm XP140

(Image credit: Future)

14. Fujifilm XP140

Affordable and indestructible, this compact offers great value

Specifications
Type: Compact
Sensor: 1/2.3in BSI-CMOS, 16.4MP
Lens mount: N/A
Screen: 3-inch touchscreen, 920K dots
Viewfinder: N/A
Continuous shooting: 15fps
Movies: 4K/15p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Properly rugged+5x optical zoom
Reasons to avoid
-Disappointing 4K video-Screen could be brighter

Well-priced yet built tough, the Fujifilm XP140 is one investment that should pay dividends for those with clumsy hands. Dustproof, shockproof to 1.8m and freeze-proof to -10ºC, it’s also waterproof down to 25m – which means it should survive just about anything you can throw at it.

More than a beefed-up bargain camera, the XP140 can also capture great images. It keeps the same stabilized 16.4MP sensor as the XP140 but adds improved scene- and eye-detection smarts, which help to deliver sharp portrait pictures. 4K footage is limited at 15fps, but 1080/60p video is smooth, while the option to shoot 720p slow-mo at 100fps is neat. The maximum ISO has also doubled to 12,800 which, with a back-illuminated sensor, makes for better low-light images, including underwater shots. 

5x optical zoom offers decent versatility for a rugged compact, while the 3-inch touchscreen makes controlling the camera straightforward. With Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity also in the mix, the Fujifilm XP140 represents great value.

(Image credit: Canon)

15. Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 200D Mark II / EOS 250D

Not the cheapest EOS but excellent for the money

Specifications
Type: DSLR
Sensor: APS-C CMOS, 24.1MP
Lens mount: Canon EF-S
Screen: 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040K dots
Viewfinder: Optical
Continuous shooting: 5fps
Movies: 1080p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Dual Pixel CMOS AF is excellent+Flexible LCD screen
Reasons to avoid
-Screen doesn't face the front-4K video absent

When the original EOS 200D / Rebel SL2 launched, it became an instant hit with anyone looking to enter the world of photography. Its easy-to-use menu system and on-screen user guide was a great help and the EOS 250D (confusingly also called the Rebel SL3 and EOS 200D Mark II) carries on that tradition. It offers beginners room to grow into more confident shooters. Canon's superb Dual Pixel CMOS AF system is available for smooth focusing during Live View, although 4K video is subject to limitations. Still, it's quite easy to find a dual lens kit for the EOS 250D for well under the $1,000 mark.

(Image credit: Future)

16. Nikon D5600

A mid-range marvel that still has lots to offer

Specifications
Sensor: APS-C CMOS
Megapixels: 24.2MP
Lens mount: Nikon DX
Screen: 3.2-inch articulating touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots
Continuous shooting speed: 5fps
Max video resolution: 1080p
User level: Beginner/enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Great image quality+Ergonomic design+Articulating touchscreen
Reasons to avoid
-1080p video-Slow Live View focusing

The D5600 is a step up from the D3000-series models, with a stronger set of specs to rival the likes of the Canon EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D. Key advantages over the D3500 (listed in position one here) include a larger LCD screen, which not only flips out and swivels all the way around to face the front, but also responds to touch, together with a more advanced autofocus system, Wi-Fi and a healthy range of additional control on the inside. Sure, you pay a little extra for the privilege, but if you need a little more growing space it makes sense to go for the D5600 so that it stays with you for years to come.